The difference between greenwashing and clearwashing, well explained

Words are important, as is the transparency of information. But in fashion, between greenwashing and the new category of clearwashing, the goal of selling clothes and accessories with the utmost clarity seems, in general, very distant. While endemic seems to be the use of increasingly misleading marketing practices


If we come across the term ‘clearwashing‘, we avoid making a mistake, thinking of a washing system to sanitise laundry. Or even a car wash. So, we believe we are talking about the big brother of greenwashing. It is more significant not because the term was coined earlier and is, therefore, older but because of the more confusion it generates, especially for the consumer. Let us try to understand it better.

The difference between greenwashing and clearwashing

Greenwashing consists of making an unfounded claim to lead consumers to believe that products are environmentally friendly or have a less environmental impact than they actually do. Clearwashing, on the other hand, consists of giving consumers useless information to establish the degree of sustainability of that product. “If a company gives me the address of a supplier in China, that tells me nothing about what’s going on there,” Cosette Joyner Martinez, a professor at Oklahoma State University, summarises in the Washington Post.

February 2020

Among the first to use the term clearwashing, Business of Fashion discussed it in an in-depth article entitled Lessons from fashion’s journey to radical transparency. It was February 2020. The pandemic was about to break out in Italy. The world was different from today. “It has become clear that the kind of marketing based on greenwashing or clearwashing to sell products will not work,” Maxine Bédat of the New Standards Institute cut it short.

This company seeks to “compact the industry within consistent metrics to achieve science-based environmental and social goals,”. BoF highlighted how transparent communication was essential to avoid accusations of greenwashing or clearwashing, fuelled by a consumer base that is increasingly informed, aware and now has a voice. And we are not just talking about the company that produces the good, but also the company that sells it to the end consumer. Today, three years later, it is legitimate to ask whether Maxine Bédat’s statement corresponds to reality.

Three years later

The term clearwashing is back in the limelight today thanks to The Washington Post, which in an article defines the adjectives “vegan, sustainable, ethical, biological (and others) as ‘misleading statements‘. And it explains well the difference between the two terms. Greenwashing: environmental marketing with little or no substance to support the claims. Clearwashing: marketing in which the information does not tell consumers much. In both cases, the bottom line is that it is useless for consumers to determine whether what they are buying is actually better for the environment and workers.

“Clearwashing,” explains Cosette Joyner Martinez, “is providing the appearance of rich information that, in the end, is not meaningful. Unnecessary transparency, such as, for example, reporting the address of a Chinese supplier. Confusion, however, drives sales and end consumers are left with no choice but to ‘do their homework’, as Mark Sumner, lecturer at the School of Design at the University of Leeds, puts it. “Homework is really about trying to figure out which brands you want to buy from and why then thinking about what those brands actually do.” (mv)

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